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The Story Of An Underdog: Tobey Prime’s Senior Column

To be honest, I have no idea what I’m doing here. I have a few things I want to say, but trying to figure out how to word it has caused me to procrastinate writing this column until the very final hour.

If anyone has followed my work throughout my two-ish years at Onward State, you’ll know that I’m a pretty goofy guy with articles about where to take a leak at a tailgate, a “who said it?” between the Willard Preacher and Kanye West, and Penn State’s water fountain quality on campus. However, I can step into my serious side like when I highlighted aspiring Penn State artists or when I was on the men’s basketball beat throughout this past season’s historic run.

Today, I want to show a little bit more of the serious side that most of my friends, peers, and even haters don’t really see much of. With that being said, I want to start this column off with a story.  

The story starts with a young couple who got married and started their life in a farm town in the middle of Pennsylvania. After having their first son, the couple decided to bring in another life just two years later. However, the craziness of two boys was just too much to bear, and the thought of having another kid wasn’t on the horizon.

Time went on and eventually the mother wanted just one more kid to complete their family. Sure enough, about four years after the second boy, the mother got pregnant. Everything seemed find as the pregnancy went on, but one random pregnancy checkup changed this family forever.

During that checkup, the couple knew something was different. When the time came to give results, the doctor was hesitant. As he was wiping the sweat that was dripping down his forehead, he struggled to find the words to delicately relay the information that he was desperately trying to hold back. Finally, he blurted it out.

“Your baby has spina bifida,” he said. “But I recommend getting a second look.”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with spina bifida, it’s a birth defect that occurs when the spine or spinal cord doesn’t fully develop. There are some cases where a child would come out fine, but the child would most likely need to be put in a wheelchair and would have learning disabilities for the rest of their life. There are other cases where it gets so severe that the child would need full care 24/7 whether that be help eating, drinking, learning, you name it. That child may not make it past the age of 15.

Struck by the news of this, the young couple traveled to Philadelphia to a more prestigious hospital to see if the information they were told was indeed true. After a few more pregnancy tests, another doctor took the couple down a long hallway, brought them into an all-white room, shut the door, and broke the news.

“Your baby does, in fact, have spina bifida,” he said. “And it’s bad. We recommend you abort this baby to save yourself from the struggle of raising him.”

The couple was devastated. The long car ride home was quiet and somber as they reflected on what they planned to do upon hearing the news about their soon-to-be baby boy. Being deeply religious in the Catholic faith, they knew abortion wasn’t an option. They were going to raise their baby no matter what condition he came out in.

As the months went on, the baby was ready to push himself into the real world and the father rushed his wife to the hospital to welcome their new member of the family. After a few hours of painful labor, their baby boy finally crept out of his mother’s womb and saw the light for the first time ever on a sunny summer day.

“He’s so fat, mom,” the middle boy blurted out when he saw his baby brother for the first time.

The mother laughed tears of joy, but it quickly turned into sadness. Reality sunk in because she knew the consequences of having this child meant her whole life was about to change. The nurses took the baby and ran a few more tests on him, aware of the condition he was supposedly diagnosed with. As the crying boy returned to his mother’s arms, she heard something she never expected to be uttered about her baby.

“Ma’am, this is the healthiest baby we have ever seen.”

No spina bifida, no birth defects, just a beautiful, crying, healthy boy.

That baby was me. Tobey Michael Prime.

My parents hid this story from me until they inevitably dropped the bomb on me during my junior year of high school. I was baffled. I didn’t know what to think. I had so many questions and concerns and went silent for the first time in my life. After taking time to reflect, the only thing I could do was to come home and give my parents the biggest hug of my entire life.

I still had questions and concerns, but honestly, I didn’t want to hear them. Maybe it’s because I am ignorant, but I didn’t want this to define me. I hid this story from everyone, and it only slipped out to a few of my close friends, but nowhere else. I just didn’t want sympathy from people. I didn’t want people to pinpoint my existence on that one thing. I wanted people to like me for me, not because I was a miracle baby.

It didn’t mean I forgot about it, in fact, it races through my mind thousands of times a day, but I use it as fuel. I wasn’t supposed to be here. The professionals of the world told my parents to get rid of me to make their life easier. But my parents believed in God, believed in their family, and most importantly, believed in me.

That fueled me to follow my passion for my career: sports. I was never any good at them athletically, but boy could I spew out random statistics about players and beat anyone in a debate. I admired Stephen A. Smith and wanted to do exactly what he does: make millions by giving opinions on sports.

From there, I applied to countless schools with strong journalism programs to really chase my passion in a life that I wasn’t supposed to have. After Syracuse waitlisted me, I decided in early December 2018 that I would take my talents to Happy Valley.

After a lackluster freshman year where I didn’t join a single club and COVID-19 cut my year a bit short, I knew I needed to do something. So, I started my own podcast to keep myself busy and applied to this popular blog, Onward State, during my first semester of sophomore year. Weeks went by when I finally got an email back that I was rejected.

That crushed me. I felt like I was wasting the life that God and my parents gave me a second chance at. But I was determined to bounce back. I continued my podcast, but really honed in on my writing. I wrote random articles on my own that never got published, read every news site to see how other journalists wrote, and did everything in my power to not get rejected again.

Spring second semester rolled around, and I applied to Onward State again (I also applied to the Collegian, but we don’t need to talk about that). This time, I made it to the interview. I remember absolutely botching my interview. I felt like I failed again. However, to my pleasant surprise, the blog accepted me, but I wasn’t met with accepting arms. My mentor and current managing editor Gabe Angieri said he hated me to start, and said most people were on the fence about adding me to the team. But they did and I’m forever grateful.

Since joining, I wrote over 130 posts, had the opportunity to cover football from the press box, help report on THON twice, cover Penn State men’s basketball’s incredible run, collect over a million views on a few videos on Onward State’s TikTok, and dominate the Collegian in dodgeball. Not bad for a kid who’s not supposed to be here.

While on the topic of Onward State, I do want to take the time to shout out some of the people who have put a smile on my face while I’ve been here. First, Matt DiSanto, thank you for accepting me into this family and reassuring me that I’m built to be a journalist.

Will Pegler, Ryan Parsons, and the late-Otis Lyons, thank you for helping me perfect my sports writing. You three truly have helped me understand reporting more than ever.

Keeley Lamm, Hailey Stutzman, and Connor Krause, what can I say to you three? I guess thanks for dealing with my snores and my sleep farts during the best Onward State road trip of all time. Just kidding, all three of you are poised to have great careers and I cannot wait to cheer you on every step of the way.

Rico Mitchell Gore, Joe Lister, and Mikey DeAngelis, thanks for having a hoot with me on Penn State’s campus and creating some great content. All three of you boys brought me so much joy throughout my time and I can’t wait to see what shenanigans you get into.

Devon Craley, Adam Babetski, Frankie Marzano, and Zach Donaldson, thank you boys for occupying State College nights with me. We’ve had some great memories and I can’t wait to continue our fun for years to come.

Finally, Gabriele Angieri. One of my best friends at Onward State, at Penn State, and in life. Thank you for always being there for my highs and my lows. I know you weren’t a fan of me at first, but I always strived to be just like you when I first joined. Thank you for being a tremendous leader, mentor, and friend. I wish nothing but the best for you in the years to come. You deserve it, man. I love you, brother.

A lot of people talk about their experience at Penn State or in this blog for their senior columns. That’s great and I love reading about my friends’ experiences, but I wouldn’t have a single experience at all if my parents decided to listen to the doctors in 2001. I wouldn’t have had such an amazing time at this university if I was stuck in a wheelchair, let alone dead before I could even take my first breath. I get that I often present myself as a loud, energetic, and sometimes, annoying guy, but can you blame me? When the world wanted me gone, my parents wanted me here. I will never take a single day for granted ever again. Not today, not for the rest of my life, not ever.  

So, before you roll your eyes when my animated personality walks into the room, remember that you’re in the presence of one of the biggest underdogs in the world. And I’m not done barking yet.

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About the Author

Tobey Prime

Tobey is a senior studying broadcast journalism from Lancaster, PA. He is a major Pittsburgh sports fan and Miami Heat fanatic. When Tobey isn't writing for Onward State, you can catch him looking at photos of his pugs. Send your best insults to [email protected] or sports takes to @tobey_prime on Twitter.

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